[Note: I have added updates at the end of this post] Last month, as part of my Churchill Fellowship travels, I met Viola Zürcher, the leader of a German forest kindergarten (strictly speaking a waldkindergrippe or forest crèche, which takes children aged under three). Her setting runs five days a week in a wooded area on the edge of the city of Freiburg. Like other similar settings, it has a small, temporary hut building as an indoor base.
The visit was meant to be a brief social call, arranged by Freiburg residents and play advocates Peter Höfflin and Ellen Weaver (my tour-guides-cum-translators for the day). But the conversation took an unexpected turn.
After my last blog post about German children having more everyday freedom than their English peers, Andrea – a German-born woman who now lives in the USA – got in touch to leave a comment. She had some revealing things to say about the differences between her home and adopted countries, and has agreed to let me share them more prominently. She paints a depressing picture of car-dependence and isolation: a stark comparison with her experiences in Germany. Here is her story.
New research from the Policy Studies Institute (PSI) shows that only a quarter of English primary school children are allowed to walk to school alone – yet in Germany, three quarters are. It is easy to think that the decline in children’s freedom to play out of doors and get around on their own is an inevitable side effect of modern life. That is why international comparisons are so valuable: they can show us how things might be different.